Q. One of my co-workers is very vocal about all the contributions she makes to the office and how indispensable she is. I feel that she steps on me to get more recognition. How can I get my contribution acknowledged?
A. Working quietly and not flaunting your achievements is certainly praiseworthy conduct. Such a demeanor displays both confidence and modesty. Certainly an employee shouldn't suffer because of an exemplary character. So how does this come about?
In an ideal work environment, recognition and advancement are based on equitable measures of achievement, including periodic performance evaluations and constructive feedback. Making the most noise just isn't part of the equation. There are many workplaces like this, but realistically they are a minority.
Conversely, in a really corrupt work environment style takes priority over substance, and the competition for recognition becomes a shouting match. Fortunately, workplaces like this are relatively few. One reason is that they don't last long, since when the outside is cultivated and the innerness neglected, the result is a hollow workplace which tends to implode.
Most workplaces, especially smaller ones, tend to be in between. Managers are well-meaning and would like to distribute recognition and advancement based on achievement, but are just too distracted to institute a consistent evaluation plan to attain this. They rely heavily on vocal comments and flaunting not because they value them but because they view this as a shortcut to knowing what's really going on. They may rationalize that ultimately this system too is equitable, insofar as all workers are equally able to "blow their own horns". This is the situation you seem to describe in your workplace.
I would recommend three things:
- As much as it may go against your nature, if recognition is important to you I think you will just have to learn to be more assertive in bringing your achievements to the attention of managers. You don't have to compare yourself to others or act in a competitive way, but you have to make a priority of making sure your contribution is documented and noted. Set an objective goal: every two weeks I will write a memo pointing out my most important attainments; every month I will speak up at a meeting and point out one important contribution I made, etc.
- If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, you should find an opportunity to point out in a delicate way that you are worried that your achievements are being overlooked because of your vocal co-worker. Again, before you do this you have to do your homework and make sure that you can document your performance.
- Ideally, you should request or suggest that your workplace institute a more equitable and consistent system of worker evaluation and feedback which doesn't require you to be so assertive in demonstrating your contribution. This step needs to be considered carefully, because it may just not be practical. Especially if the enterprise is small and this kind of worker feedback just doesn't fit naturally into the management style of managers, your workplace may not be ready for this transformation. But having such a system in place is definitely the best thing for workers and owners alike.
Of course we should never compromise on modesty, which Judaism teaches us is the true glory of a human being. Just keep in mind that you are not flaunting your personality but rather your objective accomplishments.
The great early Medieval authority Rav Shlomo Adret (Rashba) was asked if someone who donated a building for a synagogue could demand that his name be placed on the entrance. The Rashba replied that not only is this permissible, but it is even praiseworthy "in order to give a reward to those who do a mitzvah." He then pointed out that the Torah itself is careful to document the acts of the righteous, "and if the Torah does so, we need to follow the Torah's ways, which are the ways of pleasantness."
The Rashba then brings many citations from the Sages to prove that once someone knows he is going to get credit for his good deeds, he does them with special joy and enthusiasm, and that this applies even to a completely righteous individual who would definitely do the good deed anyway. (1)
So you are completely justified in valuing appropriate recognition for your genuine contributions at work.
SOURCES: (1) Responsa Rashba I:581.
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